Psychological Medicine

Suicidality after traumatic brain injury: demographic, injury and clinical correlates

a1 From the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit, Liverpool Hospital and Rehabilitation Studies Unit, Department of Medicine, University of Sydney and Royal Rehabilitation Centre, Sydney, NSW, Australia


Background. In spite of the high frequency of emotional distress after traumatic brain injury (TBI), few investigations have examined the extreme of such distress, namely, suicidality, and no large scale surveys have been conducted. The current study examined both the prevalence and demographic, injury, and clinical correlates of hopelessness, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts after TBI.

Methods. Out-patients (N = 172) with TBI were screened for suicidal ideation and hopelessness using the Beck Scale for Suicide Ideation and the Beck Hopelessness Scale. Data were also collected on demographic, injury, pre-morbid and post-injury psychosocial variables and included known risk factors for suicide.

Results. A substantial proportion of participants had clinically significant levels of hopelessness (35%) and suicide ideation (23%), and 18% had made a suicide attempt post-injury. There was a high degree of co-morbidity between suicide attempts and emotional/psychiatric disturbance. Results from regression analyses indicated that a high level of hopelessness was the most significant association of suicide ideation and a high level of suicide ideation, along with occurrence of post-injury emotional/psychiatric disturbance, were the most significant associations of post-injury suicide attempts. Neither injury severity nor the presence of pre-morbid suicide risk factors contributed to elevated levels of suicidality post-injury.

Conclusions. Suicidality is a common psychological reaction to TBI among out-patient populations. Management should involve careful history taking of previous post-injury suicidal behaviour, assessment of post-injury adjustment to TBI with particular focus on the degree of emotional/psychiatric disturbance, and close monitoring of those individuals with high levels of hopelessness and suicide ideation.

c1 Address for correspondence: Mr Grahame Simpson, Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit, Liverpool Hospital, Locked Bag 7103, Liverpool BC, New South Wales 1871, Australia.